“It’s like a marriage that really works,” says Terrence Mann about his relationship with Carolee Carmello, who sits beside him in her dressing room at the Broadhurst Theatre. “Because we don’t see each other,” she jokes. They don’t socialize much outside of the theatre—partly because she lives in New Jersey—but they’ve developed an affectionate rapport after years of working together.
Currently, the two star in Tuck Everlasting—she as Mae Tuck, the matriarch of the family that lives forever, and he as the Man in the Yellow Suit, a carnie obsessed with finding out her family’s secret to immortality. Though they both appeared in the first reading of Tuck seven years ago, between then and now they have done two other Broadway shows together: The Addams Family and Finding Neverland.
Carmello and Mann’s mutual respect stems a lot from their experience in The Addams Family, in which they played the parents of Wednesday Addams’ fiancé. “That was a fraught process, so we had to cling to each other,” Carmello says. “I remember a couple of times in Chicago when we were doing Addams Family, we would shut the door in a room and go, ‘All right, we’ve got to figure this out because nobody’s helping us, and we know we’re smart enough we can figure this scene out.’”
Even in shows when they don’t have to work as closely together, it still helps to have each other around. Carmello originated the role of Mrs. du Maurier in Finding Neverland and Mann came into the show as the Charles Frohman/Captain James Hook replacement in September. “I was thrown into the show with about ten days of rehearsal,” says Mann. “I only had one scene with her and I was so nervous because I was still just trying to get my footing, and I would come out and introduce myself to her, and I would inevitably call her the wrong name and she would just look at me, but it was good it was her, because I knew it was ok.”
“We’ve both replaced in shows before, so when you’re walking in and everybody knows each other and you’re the outsider, it’s always helpful to have somebody,” Carmello says. “You hang onto those people until you get your bearings.” That familiarity helps to ground them in their lives outside the theatre, too. Mann and Carmello would catch up in the wings for two minutes every night before a scene, chatting about their children. (“In this business, there aren’t very many people our age who have the parenting thing that they can share, so when you find someone else to talk to about that, it becomes an instant bond,” Carmello says.)
On a new show like Tuck Everlasting, with actors constantly adapting to change, trust is a powerful commodity. “In a process where everything else is kind of up for grabs and this business is so unpredictable you gravitate toward anything you can hang on to that gives you stability,” says Carmello, “so friendships and mutual understanding I think definitely do that.”
New musicals are tough. Carmello equates them to giving birth because of all the worry and anticipation that doesn’t stop—even after opening night. All they can do is their best. For their part, Carmello and Mann work well together because of their vastly different approaches, and they’ve rubbed off on each other over the years. “Terry is very creative and very free and very imaginative and experimental. And I find a way to do it, and I do it that way every time with the same inflection,” Carmello says, turning to Mann. “I’ve learned from being around you that it’s ok to play around every once in awhile. It’s not going to kill you.”
In turn, Mann finds that Carmello keeps him grounded because she always comes from a place of emotional truth. “She did this number in Addams Family on the table, which was frightening and sort of like a nervous breakdown, but it was also hysterical, and that’s very rare in actors, to be able to have a tragic moment and a comedic moment live side by side,” he says. “That’s real pathos and few people can do that, and she’s just brilliant at it.”
Linda Buchwald is a New York-based arts journalist focusing on theatre and television. Follow her on Twitter @PataphysicalSci.